When I was thinking about the importance of using story in the classroom, I began to think about books that I had read as a child. The book that I still remember clearly as being the most powerful book I have read is “When Hitler Stole Pink Rabbit”. It had a real impact on my thinking and awareness of the world and the power of a story.
Every teacher has memories of a book that had an impact on them and often they were books that were slightly more hard hitting or dealing with subjects that were possibly not discussed.
This comment was made by a 10 year old, level 5 well read girl. She asked me this question when we were half way through Boy Overboard and was genuinely shocked when I explained that I had bought it in a high street book store.
“Miss where do you get books like this from?”
“From the bookshop.”
“What kind of book shop”
“Any high street store”
“I have never found books like this before!”
Whilst at the time I was surprised that she had asked me this question, after completing staff inset on using books in the classroom I was asked the same question by teachers and teaching assistants.
Currently there is a wealth of quality children’s books available that deal with the huge variety of issues that children are being exposed to, however I don’t believe that they are always so easy to find! In the push to get children to read, publishers and suppliers seem to have taken the tack of printing pretty sparkly covers on girls books, and blue space age covers on boys. But the books we have been reading at Tide~ Book Club can be read to a whole class and they cross gender, class, race and make children excited about reading and being read to.
I have used whole books, extracts from books or chapters of books in my classroom. I believe strongly in the power of the class book. Sharing a story with a class is exciting and provides a safe place to discuss current issues. When using Refugee Boy I was able to discuss with my class openly the issues of refugees and their attitudes towards them. During the story and discussions I was shocked and at times horrified by the children’s attitudes to refugees but the book gave me a ‘way in’ to talk about their thoughts, ideas and viewpoints. At the end of the book some children spoke about how they probably wouldn’t be friends with the boy in the story but they now understood how hard his life had been.
Through attending the Tide~ Book Club I have discovered a plethora of talented writers and well written books. A gripping well written story is just that. I have given many of these books to my friends, parents and anyone else who will listen to me, to read and enjoy and often they can’t believe the quality of writing and breadth of topics dealt with.
I do believe that to confidently use a book with children and explore its issues and themes you have to have read it. This then means you have the ability to recommend books to children and discuss with them the title that they are reading. By providing the children with a quality class story and by being well read the children begin to trust you and your judgement and I am always happy to lend my copies of books out.
I have used Boy Overboard frequently. It deals with life under the Taliban in Afghanistan and then escape to Australia before being kept in a refugee camp. This is told from the humorous point of view of a young boy who the children easily relate to because all he wants to be is a footballer and there are constant references to football. When it comes to getting boys reading, a book of this quality far outweighs anything that is currently being suggested as books to make boys read!
Once I have read or used a quality text in a lesson or in ‘story time’, yes I am in Year 6, I find that the children will then come to me and ask me to find them a book. After Boy Overboard I recommended Once to a very reluctant boy reader, who I then struggled to stop reading that book. The boy read it three or four times before proclaiming to anyone who would listen that they must also read this book.
The issues and dilemmas that the characters face in these novels provide excellent opportunities to develop children’s writing, they can continue story, write debates, arguments, diaries, poetry, newspaper reports, recounts… and so on. I find that when children use quality text as a stimulus they write with a real purpose and with more enthusiasm.
As well as novels I have used poetry. Wicked World by Benjamin Zephaniah is an amazing collection of poems that deal with identity and culture. I have used these poems with children of all ages to discuss features of poetry but more importantly many typical PSHE issues such as ‘Who are we?’.
My advice for using story in the classroom is really simple start reading yourself. Tide~ has developed it’s website so that if you can’t come along to the Book Club you can use the texts and discussions that we have had. Once you have found and read a quality text- share it with children, the rest will open up from there!